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Messages - John Rairdin

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TalkBack / Unreleased GBA Dune Game Heading to Kickstarter
« on: October 21, 2021, 08:29:23 AM »

No that's not Arrakis, just some random desert planet.

A long lost Dune game for GBA may finally get an official release after 20 years as Elland: The Crystal Wars. Indie publisher The Retro Room Games has obtained the rights to the unreleased game which initially started development back in 2001. It has of course had all references to the Dune IP removed though the connections are still plain to see. The Retro Room Games intends to fund the release via a Kickstarter to be launched later this year.

Elland: The Crystal Wars is a first person, flight combat game originally developed by Soft Brigade. It was originally titled Dune: Ornithopter Assault as was evidently very near completion by the time of its cancellation.

TalkBack / Translating Metroid's Chozo
« on: October 12, 2021, 05:58:53 AM »

(Metroid Dread Spoiler Warning)

We've been hard at work digging up some fresh Chozo lore and that required going right to the source. John Rairdin, Matt Zawodniak, and Vyxie Venomous provide a full translation of the Chozo alphabet and a glimpse into their spoken language.

TalkBack / Metroid Dread (Switch) Review
« on: October 10, 2021, 02:37:00 PM »

Worth the wait, and then some.

Editor's note: To maintain a spoiler free review, no screenshots are directly attached to this text. For a more visual review please see the embedded video.

After just over thirty years and only five games (plus some remakes), the story arc that Yoshio Sakamoto began in 1986 with Metroid on the Nintendo Entertainment System has come to a close. While the Metroid series as a whole will certainly continue on, Metroid Dread marks the conclusion of one of the longest running continuous stories in gaming history. It is also the best 2D Metroid game ever made.

After a brief recap of the events of Metroid Fusion, Samus sets down on the planet ZDR, after a team of Federation E.M.M.I. robots go dark. The robots had been dispatched to investigate evidence that the X parasite, an organism capable of controlling and replicating any organic matter, was alive on the planet. However shortly after descending into the depths of ZDR, Samus is knocked unconscious and awakes to find most of her enhanced abilities stripped from her. Her computer AI, Adam, gives her a simple goal: survive and make it back to the surface.

More than any other Metroid game, Metroid Dread takes on the tone of survival horror. Where every other 2D Metroid sees Samus as a galactic exterminator sent to genocide less desirable species. Dread makes Samus herself the target of extermination. It is a concept that had been experimented with during the heavily scripted but admittedly terrifying SA-X chase sequences in Metroid Fusion, and the Zero Suit stealth sequence in Metroid Zero Mission. However Dread allows this concept to fully take shape, and the result is a tense, thrilling, and challenging experience.

Visually and auditorily Metroid Dread is a showpiece for the Switch. While many early impressions raised concern over lack of environmental variety, I can assure you that was merely to avoid undue spoilers. Metroid Dread is a gorgeous journey through the depths and across the surface of an alien world. Backgrounds teem with life and give a real sense of place. Rooms feel like they exist for a reason rather than simply being random tunnels. One can almost piece together the culture of past inhabitants from what's been left behind. The soundtrack is composed primarily of original music, rather than relying on series staples. While a few classic tracks make an appearance, it is always to elicit a specific story relevant response from the player, rather than simply playing the norfair theme anytime you enter a hot area.

As the progenitor of the Metroidvania genre, Metroid Dread serves as a reminder for why Metroid comes before Castlevania in that genre description. Dread is very much a return to something closer to Super Metroid after the more recent titles had shifted toward more guided, linear journeys. Metroid Dread is a game about exploring a labyrinthian planet, finding new abilities, then using those abilities to access previously unavailable areas. There are no objective markers on your map, merely smart level design that effortlessly leads you along. At the same time, you are also not punished for venturing off to look for hidden secrets or even do a little bit of sequence breaking. The concept of sequence breaking had been largely absent from 2D Metroid games since Metroid Fusion. It’s predecessor, Super Metroid, had always been a game that not only allowed you to break the rules, but was fully prepared for you to do so, seemingly encouraging it. Dread feels very much in this same vein. For example if the player manages to get the morph ball bombs early through an extremely difficult sequence break, they can then activate a morph ball launcher in one boss fight to kill the boss instantly complete with an entirely unique animation. The devs not only allow sequence breaking, but give you a special reward for it. While it will be difficult to gauge the full extent of player freedom until the community has had more time with the game (keeping in mind that Super Metroid has been out for almost three decades and remains a wellspring of hidden techniques) Dread feels very much like the first sequel to that element of the design since 1994.

This is very much a culmination of every lesson learned from every other 2D Metroid. It is simultaneously loyal to the truest elements of the series and the genre at large, while also never being afraid to correct elements of the classic design that haven’t aged as well. Samus’s movement is strongly built on the advancements made by MercurySteam’s first Metroid title, Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS. The player can aim freely in 360 degrees by holding down the left bumper. Samus is quick, agile, and an absolute joy to play as. New to this entry is her slide mechanic which allows her to quickly move through small ground level openings and even between the legs of attacking enemies. This ability in particular takes some getting used to as it allows you make early use of passages otherwise restricted to a morph ball. It is also vital in Dread’s iconic E.M.M.I. encounters.

The E.M.M.I.s are constantly on patrol within the depths of the planet. Each region has large swaths controlled by one of these nearly unkillable machines. Even late in the journey, as you grow more and more powerful, entering an E.M.M.I. zone is to come to grips with your fragility. Each one has its own abilities but all are an almost guaranteed death should they catch you. While Samus will slowly build up abilities that can be helpful when trying to avoid detection by the E.M.M.I.s, the unique abilities of each one mean that they never become easy.

Difficulty in general is worth touching on as while this may be one of the more difficult Metroids, it is also the most fair. Bosses are challenging and may take a few tries but they also telegraph their moves clearly and never require you to take damage. Oftentimes after struggling against a boss a few times and learning their patterns, I’d ultimately wind up beating them with a full bar of health. These are not fights you need to grind out energy tanks for, they’re fights you need to patiently observe. If you go in guns blazing just trying to trade damage, you’re going to lose. So yes, the boss fights are difficult, and they’re supposed to be. They’re fair and excellently balanced with plenty of hidden techniques for attentive players. While a difficulty slider could certainly be an option, I feel it takes away from what are clearly very intentional design decisions in this regard. These bosses are intended to encourage smart observation. Lowering the difficulty removes that requirement, allowing the player to brute force their way through and thus defeat the entire purpose of the encounter. This is a game about Samus being weaker than her environment and needing to be clever. It’s arguably the entire point of the game.

Since Metroid Dread’s reveal I’ve replayed Sakamoto’s entire 2D Metroid series along with several other members of the Nintendo World Report Staff. In our discussions I’ve seen that the experience of playing Metroid can vary greatly from person to person. For myself, I’m not really one to 100% these games, nor am I one to actively sequence break. I do allow my curiosity to cause me to wander off and explore for items, but I largely enjoy letting the excellent level design carry me along without even realizing I’m being guided. For this reason the more linear titles like Metroid Fusion are still among my favorites. And in terms of storytelling the more linear games often have an advantage over the open ones. However Metroid Dread does something incredible that until I played it I wouldn’t have thought possible. It carries the storytelling and tone of Metroid Fusion, into the most open Metroid game since Super Metroid, and does so seamlessly. It sets up a story of helplessness and terror (dare I say dread), then aligns the gameplay perfectly to match player experience. You are weak, and stand against an incredible power. The only hope you have is to outsmart them. This plays out constantly throughout the experience. Whether its against an E.M.M.I, a giant boss, or simply exploring. It isn’t your weapons that will save you, it is your intelligence.

Over the years I’ve heard many people demand a sequel, in terms of gameplay, to one 2D Metroid or another. No matter what sequel you’ve wished for, Metroid Dread is it. It is simply Metroid, in the best way possible. Metroid Dread is the culmination of 2D Metroid in its entirety. It is a testament not only to what the genre has always been, but the potential of what it could become. It is a triumphant return of Samus Aran as the undisputed queen of the genre. Long may she reign.

TalkBack / Know Your Developers: MercurySteam
« on: October 06, 2021, 06:05:23 AM »

TalkBack / Darksiders III (Switch) Review
« on: October 04, 2021, 06:03:00 AM »

The Switch is finally caught up on Darksiders... for now.

I was ecstatic when it was revealed that the long awaited Darksiders III was actually happening. I picked it up on launch day for Xbox One and despite its somewhat rough release state, I deeply enjoyed my time with it. I played it again on Xbox Series X this year, where the significant upgrade was able to brute force through any lingering technical issues. But when a Switch version was announced I couldn’t help but think back to its original Xbox One release. If it took an Xbox Series X to solve its technical issues, what hope was there for a Switch version? And yet, I had enjoyed it on Xbox One back in 2018, warts and all, so if the Switch could just get close enough, perhaps there was hope.

Darksiders III, much like Darksiders II, takes place during a time skip that occurs just after the opening segment of the original Darksiders. The horseman of the apocalypse, War, has ridden early, causing the armies of Heaven and Hell to descend upon the earth. As he sits in chains awaiting judgment for his actions (which will ultimately come in the form of a Zelda-inspired adventure game), his sister, Fury, is tasked with hunting down the seven deadly sins, who are loose on earth. Unlike the first Darksiders which takes place largely one thousand years after the apocalypse, or Darksiders II which predominantly focuses on universes outside our own, Darksiders III takes place on an immediately post-apocalyptic earth. Angels and demons fight to carve out territory, and a few human survivors cling to life. Earth in transition ultimately forms the backdrop for what is probably the most character-growth driven story the series has told. Unlike the two previously explored horsemen, Fury isn’t attempting to atone for or undo the apocalypse. In fact, she’d much rather join in. The story is ultimately one of understanding what makes humanity unique and worth saving, via an exploration of their failures. And then of course you also kill a literal tornado by setting it on fire at one point; it is still a Darksiders game after all.

The Darksiders games have long been heavily inspired by 3D Zelda, but with a greater focus on combat. For Darksiders III, the series makes a shift towards more strategic combat, taking heavy influence from the Souls franchise. Players can choose between two combat modes. The default lines up more closely with its inspiration. Healing items take a moment to use and require Fury to stop moving. Attacks cannot be interrupted with other actions such as dodges, requiring the player to fully commit to any given action. Classic mode, on the other hand, allows combat to feel a little more like the previous two Darksiders games by reversing the two aforementioned restrictions. That being said, the difficulty is maintained. This is by far the most difficult game in the series when it comes to combat. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by enemies if you aren’t watching them carefully, and many of the bosses provide a stiff challenge.

Combat is only part of the journey, however. The rest of Darksiders III is focused on exploration and some light puzzle solving. In comparison to the previous games the focus on bespoke Zelda-like dungeons is reduced, and much of the puzzle solving revolves more around using acquired abilities to access previously unavailable parts of the environment. In this way I’d compare Darksiders III less with Zelda or even Dark Souls, and more with Metroid. Over the course of the adventure Fury will acquire various upgrades called hollows. These abilities will allow her to take on different elemental forms that each grant her new movement options. One allows her a triple jump that rockets her into the air. Another allows her to walk normally at full speed while underwater. Yet another allows her to walk on top of water instead. One even gives her the ability to take on the form of a ball and attach to certain parts of walls and ceilings. The comparisons to Metroid are not hard to find or obscured. The ability that lets her walk normally underwater even turns her purple. The influences are clear, and are not shied away from.

When it comes to game design, I have very few complaints about Darksiders III. The one glaring issue, made only more evident by the comparisons I just mentioned, is the lack of a map. The world of Darksiders III is one of the most labyrinthian I’ve ever seen. It is huge, seamless, interconnected, and oftentimes very confusing. You do have a compass that points you generally in the direction of your next major objective, but going back with new abilities to clear out optional side areas is a huge chore. You can fast travel from any of the checkpoints that also serve as shops throughout the world, but the fast travel points are merely presented as a list separated only by generally themed areas. Despite playing through the game multiple times at this point, I’ve never gotten a good hold on the layout of the world. If you’re just in it to push through the main storyline, it isn’t the biggest issue, but this is clearly a game that wants you to explore, find collectibles, and even take on optional boss fights. The absence of even the most basic map system, which has been present in every other Darksiders game, is baffling.

The Switch version itself is an odd beast to critique. Even now returning to the Xbox One version years after its launch and multiple patches, it still has issues. It regularly pauses to stream in more of the world if you’re moving too quickly through it. Aggressive geometry culling means that turning the camera quickly almost always reveals a quick glimpse of the void on your peripheries. And the loading times after death generally range from 30-40 seconds. The Switch version maintains all of these issues, but at the same time doesn’t really add to them. In fact, on  average loading times are about 20% faster on Switch. The general technical impression is that, outside of visual changes made to get it running on Switch, this is largely on par with the Xbox One version. This is not to say that it is technically good, merely that the issues present are not inherent to this port. In terms of raw visuals, Darksiders III makes a lot of cuts, but as a result maintains a reasonable frame rate and a decent resolution. Playing handheld it actually looks quite good. Things are a bit blurrier on the TV but not as bad as I’d have expected. You can check out my full technical breakdown below if you’re interested.

Darksiders III is a more challenging take on a series that wasn’t exactly known for being easy in the first place. It changes up its influences somewhat while maintaining its unique take on action adventure. Outside of the obvious omission of a map, the simple act of playing Darksiders III is fun, challenging, and rewarding. The Switch port, save for the expected visual downgrades, is on par with the originally targeted systems. The only problem is it never ran particularly well on those systems either. If anything the Switch version actually improves on some elements of the original performance, but it can still be a bit of a rough ride. This was always a game that required more powerful hardware to push through its shortcomings and the Switch obviously can’t totally deliver on that. At the same time, with slightly faster loading and solid handheld performance, I’d probably still take this over going back to the original Xbox One version.

TalkBack / ExZeus: The Complete Collection (Switch) Review
« on: October 02, 2021, 11:46:10 AM »

If I had a nickle for every time aliens invaded Earth and we fought them off with rail-shooting robots I'd have two nickles, which isn't a lot but it's weird that it happened twice.

ExZeus: The Complete Collection is a package of two arcade style rail-shooters. The first game, ExZeus, was originally released in arcades in 2003. Wii fans may know this first game as Counter Force, as it was released on Wii in 2007. Its sequel, ExZeus 2, launched on the Apple App Store in 2012 and has since come to a variety of other platforms. The complete collection combines both games, but with a lack of bells and whistles, can these games hold up in 2021?

Both games tell the story of alien invasions of Earth, which are countered (naturally) by the development of giant mechs. ExZeus allows the player to choose from three different mechs, each with their own unique stats, while ExZeus 2 simplifies this down to a single mech. Each game is broken into a series of rail-line levels, each punctuated by a boss fight against a giant alien creature.

The original ExZeus having been released as an actual arcade unit is a bit of a quarter muncher, but perhaps forgivably so. Each level consists of a very straightforward rail-line segment that generally takes the form of a tunnel full of enemies. There are very few obstacles to dodge, which is honestly a good thing, as your mech takes up a huge portion of the screen real estate. While the first and last level feel somewhat intentionally designed, the levels in between just feel like a wall of enemies designed to kill you and get another quarter. By comparison most of the bosses are comically easy, with ample weak points and slow attack patterns. The entire game lasts around 20-30 minutes, and thanks to abundant continues, it is pretty forgiving. It's also brimming with early 2000’s arcade charm. From the visuals that take me back to playing Dreamcast, to soundscapes of electric guitars and an over-dramatic announcer, it's hard not to get a little nostalgic.

ExZeus 2 was never an actual arcade game, which makes some of its design choices a bit more confusing. At a basic level, it's the same setup as the first game: go through a level then fight a boss. However, levels are now broken up into multiple segments consisting of both rail-line shooting, on foot arena combat segments, and vehicle segments. It's nice in theory but none of them control as well as the rail-line flight segments. Additionally, unlike the first game, when you die once in ExZeus 2 you die for real and have to cycle fully through the main menu to continue from your last checkpoint. The whole thing feels less polished than the original and without the excuse of being a literal arcade game, the aggressively difficult design is much less understandable.

The package as a whole runs very well and no loading screens are visible outside of a very short pause when you select which game to play from the startup menu. Unfortunately, beyond that, this is an extremely bare bones package. I’m perfectly fine with both games maintaining their original visuals, in fact I prefer it, but the collection is sorely lacking in the most basic of quality of life updates. Especially the first game, which as an actual arcade game, needs the ability to add more tokens with a button press, or simply enable freeplay. The second game is honestly just not very good, but could be made significantly better with the option to have multiple lives, or even just to continue without having to sit through the high score screen and reload from the main menu.

As a little nugget of arcade history, the first ExZeus is certainly worth having and is a good, though very straightforward port. The second game isn’t really worth it unless you're desperate. This is unfortunate as some basic quality of life updates could make it a much better game. There is some cool history here, and this is a collection that will appeal to arcade or rail-shooter enthusiasts, but is hard to recommend outside of those specific circles.

TalkBack / Darksiders III Switch VS Xbox One
« on: September 30, 2021, 05:20:18 AM »

TalkBack / Hot Wheels Unleashed (Switch) Review in Progress
« on: September 27, 2021, 07:59:48 AM »

A wildly customizable racing game.

Reviewer's note: In the interest of accurately representing the complete game, I have chosen to post this review unscored until I have an opportunity to try the multiplayer post launch.

You never really know what you’re going to get when it comes to Hot Wheels games. For every Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver, there’s also a Hot Wheels World’s Best Driver. Most of the franchise tends to lean a bit closer to the latter. So it is with trepidation that I approached Hot Wheels Unleashed, hopeful to rekindle nostalgia with an arcade racing experience, while being fully prepared for the worst.

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a drift-focused, arcade racing game that leans heavily into its toy car inspiration. This applies not only to the races themselves, but to the entire package. This is a game built on—in essentially equal measure—racing, collecting, and customizing. While it approaches each of these with varying degrees of success, it is difficult to ignore the sheer volume of content included in Hot Wheels Unleashed.

As you start a new game, you’ll instantly be given three blind boxes from which you’ll pull your first three cars. These are truly random, so different players will not necessarily start with the same cars. This is worth noting as some vehicles are objectively worse than others. While you seemingly get one balanced car, one very fast car, and one terrible car, the exact stats can vary significantly. Throughout the single player campaign you’ll earn coins and gears. Coins can be used to buy new blind boxes or even individual cars that are available on a rotating schedule. Gears meanwhile can be used to upgrade your car’s stats. New cars and other elements will also be available via DLC, both paid and free.

But of course, the main attraction here is the racing itself. Hot Wheels Unleashed includes both online and offline multiplayer, along with a surprisingly expansive single player campaign. As the game has not yet released at the time of writing this, I have been unable to fully experience the online component, but plan on updating my review with a final score after launch.

The single player mode, Hot Wheels City Rumble, presents a map full of challenges to compete in. Most events have both a standard victory condition and a bonus condition that unlocks additional rewards. For example, most races require you to place in the top three to proceed, but winning first place will often award a new car for your collection. Different paths along the map lead to different rewards, and some events are even hidden behind secret unlocks. This is honestly my ideal setup for single player in a racing game rather than a traditional grand prix mode. The only weakness here is that while the setup is perfect, all of the events essentially just equate to a race or a time trial. Even the events labeled “Boss Race” are ultimately just a normal race with the added condition that getting first place is the only way to proceed. There isn’t even a specific boss car; it's just the same random lineup of vehicles you’ve been racing the whole time. I was expecting a one-on-one race in which I’d unlock a powerful car, but alas, it is just another race.

The racing mechanics themselves are generally solid, save for some occasionally weird physics. There is a heavy focus placed on drifting to speed up the filling of your boost meter. Higher level and rarer cars can store a greater amount of boost power, and different cars offer slightly different boosting mechanics. Some allow individual boosts that must be fully charged before they can be used, while others use a unified meter that may be drawn from at any time. I did find that the physics on cars was somewhat difficult to predict. Occasionally bumping a wall would grind me to a halt while other times it barely affected my speed. Sometimes bumping another car would have very little effect; in other situations, we’d both go spinning wildly out of control. There is a sense while playing that you’re never 100% in control of your vehicle as if it's not firmly connected to the ground.

Arguably, Hot Wheels Unleashed’s strongest element is its incredibly in-depth customization. Cars, tracks, and even the basement in which your tracks can be built are all fully customizable. Cars can have custom paint jobs and be covered in stickers to create meticulous designs. These can then be uploaded and shared online with other players. The same goes for the track editor which, while very complex, is also quite powerful. It is admittedly a little unwieldy at launch, but an update for the Switch version that purports to improve the tutorial system will be arriving on October 4th. Though even without it, the amount of freedom you have to create tracks is impressive. A lot of what makes this fun comes down to the environments in which these tracks are constructed. Levels take place in one of six environments, each of which is way bigger than necessary for any one track. My favorite of these is the College Campus which contains multiple classrooms, a library, and a hallway. Even the ventilation ducts in the ceiling between rooms are open to track construction. The complex verticality of these environments ought to lend itself to some interesting tracks if a large enough community can develop around it.

Finally we come to the specifics of the Switch version itself. On Switch, Hot Wheels Unleashed runs at thirty frames per second and is extremely consistent. I tested around an hour's worth of races and struggled to find a single frame rate issue. It's honestly impressive given the huge environments and customizability of the tracks and vehicles. Image quality on the whole is generally good. Handheld mode looks excellent and appears to be native resolution or very near to it. Things are a little blurrier docked but still not bad. Playing docked, it is a bit easier to tell that the game is outputting exactly 720p. Not ideal for big screen play but passable, and worth it for the excellent performance levels. The only substantial downside on the technical front is some pretty long loading times into races and even just to the main menu. It makes this a difficult game to just hop into.

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a decent arcade racer with a whole bunch of additional content that helps pull it out of mediocrity. The single player campaign is set up for greatness but ultimately fails to amount to anything beyond basic races and time trials. The customization is incredible, if a little hard to come to grip with. Hopefully, the upcoming post-launch update will clear these issues up. For now, there is a lot of potential. Check back around the time that patch hits for my final scored thoughts on the game. In the meantime, if building tracks and customizing cars can make up for some rough edges in other departments, Hot Wheels Unleashed may be worth checking out.

TalkBack / Re: First Bayonetta 3 Footage Shown, Slated For 2022 Launch
« on: September 24, 2021, 02:12:39 PM »
found this to be a particularly weak final trailer.  It don't see what the draw of the game is from the clips.

God I sure hope this isn't the final trailer ;)

TalkBack / New Details on Story DLC for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
« on: September 23, 2021, 03:04:39 PM »

Let the lore speculation begin!

Nintendo has finally detailed the upcoming story DLC for Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity entitled Guardian of Rememberance. The DLC will release on October 29th. It will include a new story including battles focused on both Kakariko and Gopanga village. New characters including Robbie, Purah, and one more mystery character will be added, along with updates to existing characters. The story itself seems to focus on the events directly following the original game but no specifics as to the details of the story were given.

TalkBack / Mario Golf: Super Rush Gets Second Major Update
« on: September 23, 2021, 02:55:17 PM »

Has Ninji always had button nipples?

Mario Golf: Super Rush will recieve a new, free content update later today. This update is to include both Koopa Troopa and Ninji as playable characters. Two new courses are also being added in snow and desert themes.

This follows after the previous update which included a New Donk City course based on the level of the same name in Super Mario Odyssey.

TalkBack / Chocobo GP Drifting Exclusively to Switch
« on: September 23, 2021, 02:49:00 PM »

Why don't the chocobo get cars too?

Square Enix has announced a Mario Kart style racer themed around the Final Fantasy series during today's Nintendo Direct. It will release as a Nintendo Switch timed exclusive in 2022.

Featuring recognizable Final Fantasy characters, class types, and of course chocobos. The reveal trailer shows off drift boosts and various magicites which serve as items to attack opponents. Aqquiring multipel magicites of the same element can stack into more powerful versions of each spell. The game includes local and online multiplayer with the option to participate in 64 player tournaments.

TalkBack / Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa (Switch) Review
« on: September 08, 2021, 06:31:57 AM »

I spent so long typing that title I didn’t have time to write a good subheader.

Hindsight 20/20 - Wrath of the Raakshasa has about as much ambition as it does words in its title. This brawler meets morality tale seeks to uphold that age old promise that we’ve seen so often in video games, to have your decisions matter. While the systems are certainly in place to deliver, can the moment to moment gameplay stack up to those lofty goals?

You play as a one armed hero, returning to his hometown some time after the death of his father. The world is being taken over by a sickness that causes people to turn into zombie-like Raakshasa. Much of the game’s morality system will hinge upon how you choose to deal with the infected. As so often happens, you're chosen as the only hero capable of dealing with the Raakshasa threat once and for all.

Hindsight pitches itself as an action RPG, but it could more appropriately be described as a hack and slash, not so dissimilar from God of War or Bayonetta. While early on you’ll have a town to explore, most of the gameplay involves killing enemies, picking up colored keys, and solving very rudimentary puzzles. It is oddly similar to classic FPS titles like Doom in its progression. Some of these stages are more dungeon-like than others, but most feel very linear with only the occasional branching path to go pick up a key before returning to the main path. I should also note that the only thing differentiating most keys are their color and there are quite a few of them, resulting in very similar colors. My fellow colorblind gamers should be aware that you’ll likely confidently approach the wrong door a few times. Enemies are almost always fought in large, square kill-rooms that, at best, may have a hazard or two scattered about. The repetition and blandness of Hindsight’s level design is the greatest point against it. While the surrounding environment may change, the bulk of the experience never amounts to much more than walking between a series of near identical arenas to fight a swarm of the same few enemy types. Even boss types are oftentimes re-used with slight pattern modifications.

The unique hook of Hindsight is that every combat situation gives you the choice between lethal and non-lethal weapons. The way you treat your opponents will have lasting effects on how other opponents will treat you in the future. This can even result in forcing or avoiding a fight based on your prior actions. While lethal combat is often quicker, non-lethal combat tends to work out to the player’s advantage in the story. As a result, while it would be easy to brute force your way through the game, the results likely wouldn’t turn out as well. Occasionally you’ll also have decision points outside of combat that will also sway the course of events in one direction or another. While the morality system is essentially binary, the reaction of the world around you is quite satisfying and recognizably a direct result of your choices.

Combat in Hindsight is fast paced and satisfying. It is easy to pick up but with plenty of intricacies to master. I particularly appreciate the differences between lethal and non-lethal weapons.  I found that lethal combat was usually a bit easier as it is less reliant on combos and most fights could be easily button mashed through. Meanwhile, being non-lethal requires more strategy and finesse as you combo between multiple enemies to build up to stronger and stronger attacks.

Hindsight takes on an appearance very reminiscent of Gamecube era titles in terms of its cell shaded art design. It looks sharp both on the television and handheld in addition to running excellently. While it is releasing for every major platform, it feels perfectly optimized for Switch in a way that multiplatform titles rarely do. I can’t speak quite as positively about the art design itself. In a word it feels messy. The player, environments, NPCs, and enemies often all feel like they’re from entirely different games with no real consistent design between them. Even the different classes of enemy all feel as if they’re from entirely different universes. This isn’t to say that any of the designs are outright bad, merely that they feel kitbashed together by an art team that was given no real direction. The writing is similarly awkward though it does at least do a good job of reflecting your choices throughout the journey. Music on the other hand fares much better with a classic Hollywood adventure vibe underpinning the entire game.

Hindsight 20/20 - Wrath of the Raakshasa largely meets its goal of meaningful choice, which is impressive. However its ability to hold your interest while it does so is up for debate. There are a lot of good ingredients here, but they aren’t always mixed together in the most interesting way. Ultimately the mechanism whereby you experience the best of what Hindsight has to offer, is extremely repetitive and not very interesting. The combat system itself is good and the difference in playstyle between lethal and non-lethal is excellent, but it rarely does anything significant with encounters. If you can put up with what feels like the same fight over and over again, there’s something cool here, but that repetition can be a bit of a hurdle, and then another, and another.

TalkBack / Cursed to Golf Announced for Switch
« on: August 30, 2021, 08:40:00 AM »

A roguelite golf adventure.

Chuhai Labs has today announced their next title, Cursed to Golf, will be coming to Switch along with PC via Steam in 2022. This 2D golf game tasks the player with escaping from Golf Purgatory in your quest to become a golfing legend. All while avoiding deadly traps and hazards.

Chuhai Labs previously released Halloween Forever on Nintendo Switch, and Carve Snowboarding (a spiritual sequel to 1080 Snowboarding) on the Oculus Quest.

TalkBack / Win a Signed Copy of Star Fox Command!
« on: August 30, 2021, 06:56:00 AM »

We've teamed up with Q-Games to celebrate their 15th Anniversary of Star Fox Command!

Q-Games is a developer that should be well known to most Nintendo fans. From Star Fox to Pixeljunk, they've left quite an impression in the libraries of many a Nintendo game. This week they're celebrating their 20th anniversary as a company as well as the 15th anniversary of Star Fox Command, and they've teamed up with us here at Nintendo World Report to help get the festivities in motion.

Q-Games will be giving away three signed copies of Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS, covered in the autographs of its developers, including Dylan Cuthbert, one of the original programmers behind the Star Fox franchise.

Here's the best part, you can get an entry into this contest simply by checking out our recent documentary on the development of Star Fox Command! That's right, just visiting our YouTube channel will get you an entry. But don't stop with just that, there are plenty of other easy ways to get extra entries so take a look at the full contest below.

Win a Signed Copy of Star Fox Command

TalkBack / The History and Development of Star Fox Command
« on: August 28, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

As told by the original developers at Q-Games.

The story of how a small studio was tasked with creating the most open-ended Star Fox of all time. In this full length documentary, John Rairdin sits down with many of the original developers from Q-Games along with NWR staff members to uncover brand new information about the development of Star Fox Command. This is the history of Star Fox Command told by the people who made it.

TalkBack / King's Bounty II (Switch) Review
« on: August 23, 2021, 08:15:08 AM »

An unpolished but potential filled tactics RPG.

Over three decades after the release of the original King’s Bounty on DOS, King’s Bounty II arrives on a multitude of systems including the Nintendo Switch. Like the original it combines the various tropes of western RPGs with deep, tactical, turn based combat. But in the more than thirty years since the original release, both western RPGs and tactics games have evolved significantly. King’s Bounty II takes some giant steps towards modernization, but gets tripped up in several places along the way.

Upon starting a new file you’ll choose from three characters, each with different abilities, advantages, and disadvantages. To some degree altering your equipment and leveling up your character in different ways can negate some of these predetermined attributes. But, especially early on, your choice of character will have a pretty big effect on combat. At its most basic level, King’s Bounty II can be divided into two primary forms of gameplay. The story, exploration, gathering of quests, and trading of items, takes place in a large third person overworld. Meanwhile combat encounters, denoted by a large highlighted area on the overworld, play out in turn based combat. While much of the exploration clearly takes cues from franchises like The Witcher or Dragon Age, combat rides a line somewhere between Civilization and Fire Emblem.

Exploring the world, talking to people, and picking up quests was by far my favorite portion of King’s Bounty II. The voice acting can be a little rough, your character moves somewhat slowly, and the Switch resolution leaves a lot to be desired, but the world begs to be explored. Even at a low resolution the world is rich, full of details, and seemingly random side quests play out in interesting and engaging ways. This is one of those games where I quickly lost track of what the primary questline even is, because I so immediately became distracted by everything around me. Quests also cause you to engage in the Morality system which affects how quests play out, along with what abilities you’ll ultimately have access to.

However, doing side quests may highlight King’s Bounty II’s more egregious issues. This is a punishing game, particularly once you actually get into combat. In order to level up your character, earn money, and procure new gear you’re pretty much required to break from the primary storyline. Unfortunately there is no real way to know if any given side quest is at your ability level until you enter whatever combat it may entail. Most quests follow the general formula of having you run around doing things in the overworld for a while before eventually engaging in combat. I quickly built up a list of unfinished quests where I had done everything except the final fight after realizing it was well above my current level.

Combat in King’s Bounty II is deep and complex but also brutally punishing and poorly tutorialized. The in game tutorial amounts to moving units, selecting a target, and not a whole lot else. Is there a height advantage during combat? How does the unit morale system work? How do my stats affect my units’ stats? As I said this is a gloriously deep combat system, and I’m sure post launch there will be plenty of wikis detailing its operation, but in the isolation of the review period, I found myself stumbling through early encounters. What makes this go from annoying to an actual problem is that King’s Bounty II makes use of unit permadeath. Units are composed of multiple soldiers. If a few die you can quickly replenish them after a battle, however if an entire unit is killed you’ll need to recruit an entirely new one. All the experience and bonuses gained by that unit from battles fought will be gone. This causes King’s Bounty II to fall into the classic game design paradigm of the game actually making itself more difficult, unless you’re already good at it. This caused me to be extremely apprehensive about going into any battle I wasn’t completely sure I could win. Luckily there is a manual save option which I made use of quite liberally.

I want to be clear that the combat mechanics themselves are not bad. As I grew to understand them through trial and error combat became much more enjoyable. As units gain experience they’ll become stronger, but as your character grows you’ll also be able to include more soldiers in a given unit. Your character will gain abilities over the course of the story that will allow them to take part in battles beyond simply commanding units. The sorcerer character for example can cast spells anywhere on the field allowing her to damage, heal, or buff units from the sideline.

The one problem King’s Bounty II faces that is exclusive to the Switch version is that of performance. While loading times are short and the frame rate only really struggles in the larger towns, resolution and image quality are both very poor. The resolution is workable during standard exploration, but when zoomed out in combat, it becomes very difficult to identify different unit types. A very rough temporal anti-aliasing implementation put in place to help with the low resolution also causes extremely noticeable ghosting artifacts along the edges of moving characters and objects. All of this is heightened when playing portably where combat relies almost entirely on reading unit names rather than identifying them by sight.

King’s Bounty II is an incredibly ambitious game that seeks to leapfrog the last thirty years of genre evolution. From a certain perspective it is impressive they’ve managed to get this far while still keeping the gameplay recognizably close to its source material. On the other hand there are just too many obvious quality of life issues to ignore. Too often exploring the world becomes a game of walking in a direction until you realize you’re not supposed to have gone that way due to high level enemies. Too often combat results in re-loading a manual save as you trial and error your way through various unexplained mechanics. There is a good game deep beneath the surface, but it lacks a lot of polish that it would need to be truly great.

TalkBack / Heart Chain Kitty (Switch) Review
« on: August 20, 2021, 08:46:24 AM »

Alright so maybe graphics matter a little.

Heart Chain Kitty is a 3D platformer that pitches itself as a collectathon in the same vein as Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario Sunshine. However, collecting the various macguffins scattered throughout its levels will be the least of your worries, especially if you’re playing the Switch version. Heart Chain Kitty is fascinating, though more so in its unbroken string of poor choices rather than its game design.

The premise around Heart Chain Kitty is simple enough. Wander across a surprisingly large world taking on smaller stages along the way. At key points you’ll earn abilities that will allow you to navigate to new areas of the world. The protagonist Kittey (not Kitty) starts with nothing more than the ability to jump on enemies' heads. Strangely, enemies are damage sponges meaning they’ll all take multiple hits to bring down. An odd choice for a simple 3D platformer. Early on Kittey will gain a glove that allows him to punch, which can also destroy certain blocks opening up new areas. A gliding ability can also be purchased from a shop early on which is virtually essential but is easily missed. In fact, much of Heart Chain Kitty is easily missed. As already mentioned the areas you’re exploring are often large and oddly labyrinthian. A map is viewable in the lower left corner of the screen that's covered in icons that are never explained and is impossibly small especially in handheld mode. Not to mention that whether playing in docked or handheld configuration this is one of the blurriest games I’ve ever played on Switch (and that is saying something).

The underlying mechanics of Heart Chain Kitty are largely mediocre. But the Switch port itself is an altogether different beast. It is worth noting that the screenshots present on the eShop listing are not from the Switch version, and while they do convey some questionable design choices, they fail to show off the rendering resolution. I’ve played some very blurry Switch games, but this is the first one to ever give me a headache, the first one to cause me to squint, the first one to earnestly make me reach for my glasses only to realize I’m already wearing them. It isn’t all down to resolution either, the visual makeup of Heart Chain Kitty is a perfect storm. Beyond the resolution itself is a heavy anti-aliasing filter intended to smooth out the rough edges of a lower resolution. However at a resolution this low, it simply turns the image to a soupy, ill defined mush. I struggled with it while playing docked and honestly had to put my Switch down and take some painkillers after I tried to play in handheld mode. But wait there’s more.

Adding to the lackluster technical performance is art design that, while well intentioned, just results in what can only be described as the lifeless rotting corpse of a rainbow left out in the rain. The entire game is heavily themed around dreams and the art design tries to convey that with a psychedelic color pallet with no regard for the simplest elements of color theory. Every surface in the game is also bizarrely shiny, making the whole world hard to differentiate. Whether you’re looking at a tree, a rock, the grass, a house, or a couch, it all takes on the same specular properties. What results looks like the aftermath of a wild party with an incontinent unicorn. And yes to some degree this oddness is intentional. The writing has a strange subversive humor to it and it's clear that the visuals are attempting to do the same. The difference is that the writing was chuckle worthy at best and skippable at worst, meanwhile the visual presentation caused me to just stop playing on multiple occasions.

Heart Chain Kitty on Switch is a very rough port of a pretty rough game. What results is just uncomfortable to play. It would be one thing if the underlying experience of Heart Chain Kitty outside this Switch version was some sort of hidden gem, but it isn’t. Heart Chain Kitty is technically a fully functional 3D platformer, but not one you’ll actually enjoy.

TalkBack / Quake 64 Remastered
« on: August 20, 2021, 05:07:33 AM »

The weird bonus remaster hidden within the Quake remaster.

The version of Quake that launched on Switch yesterday quietly includes a new version of Quake 64, and it's weirdly wonderful.


Or using literally any Amiibo for anything ever.

I'm not even sure if this is satire or just an autobiography.

Not pictured: the time spent navigating Fi menus to actually get to the Amiibo scan screen.

TalkBack / The Falconeer: Warrior Edition (Switch) Review
« on: August 02, 2021, 05:09:45 AM »

An Open World Air Combat Adventure

The Falconeer was the first game I downloaded on my Xbox Series X. It was a game I had followed throughout its development and its blend of fantasy and flight combat was instantly appealing. I deeply enjoyed it on Xbox Series X, but with a flurry of other things I was eager to try on the new system, I never took the time to fully invest in The Falconeer. Then came its surprise announcement on Nintendo Switch, followed by a very early review code. Unlike most reviews where I have to play quickly to get a review in by embargo, this was a rare instance where I could simply sink into the game, and that's exactly what I did. The Falconeer may have been a factor in my purchase of the Xbox Series X, but the Switch release has been the version that clicked.

The Falconeer combines aerial combat, a piratic, fantasy setting, and a vast open sea and sky to create something wholly unique. You play as a pilot attop a warbird. From your mount you’ll fly across the Ursee, a vast ocean world dotted with small islands. The campaign is split into multiple chapters that can be freely jumped between and replayed. Different chapters position you as a pilot in service of different factions. The lore of each faction and the world at large is surprisingly dense, but you’re free to take it all in or simply skip to shooting stuff. That being said as I got my sea legs under me, I found myself highly invested in the storylines gradually developing across the various factions.

Gameplay in each chapter has one primary quest line but you are always free to take on additional quests from your home island or simply take off and search for adventure on your own. Most islands can be landed at and many include traders and their own set of optional quests. That said, the availability of these functions is dependent on your status and the status of your faction in relation to whomever controls a given island. Taking the time to venture off and seek out additional quests yields financial rewards along with experience points. Money can be used to buy equipment, and your level affects stats, which will carry over into later chapters. While the difficulty curve in Falconeer isn’t unfair, it is constantly rising, so taking on side quests is highly recommended.

The majority of quests, be they primary or secondary, take the form of combat encounters. Here is where Falconeer truly shines; your warbird legitimately feels like a living creature and not an airplane or spaceship. It has stamina that can be depleted by trying to quickly gain altitude or accelerating. It can also simply tuck its wings in and plummet quickly, which can be helpful for making a quick getaway. This all means that your position when entering a combat situation becomes the difference between victory and defeat. If you fly in low you’ll likely be staying low as the stamina cost to climb up and out of a crossfire is prohibitive. But if you enter from high up in the clouds you’ll have plenty of potential for quick dives, and an advantage on enemies below you. Because of these considerations The Falconeer takes some getting used to, even if you’re familiar with other aerial combat games. And it's worth getting used to, as combat is not only deep if given the chance, but also the bulk of the gameplay. While occasionally a side quest quest will involve delivering a package or some other alternative activity, they almost always ultimately result in a fight. I could definitely see an argument for this being too repetitive, but at the same time, this is a flight combat game at its core. Complaining that there is too much aerial combat feels a bit like saying Tetris has too many falling blocks.

As for the Switch port itself, I couldn’t really ask for anything better. In fact I probably would have settled for less. The entire game runs with no loading beyond the main menu even when fast traveling. It also maintains a constant 60 frames per second. That’s right, no 30 frames per second drop for this Switch port. I posted a full technical breakdown back in June that goes over all the changes that were made. The performance on Switch has actually been improved since then with better image quality than it had during that preview period. If you’re interested you can find a link to that video embeded below. All of this results in a game that plays fantastically both docked and handheld.

It has been odd returning to Falconeer to polish off this review after taking a break to play the recent remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. In a way The Falconeer feels a lot like how I would have liked the sky portions of that game to work. In another Zelda reference, the island hopping across an ocean world reminds me a bit of Wind Waker. Mix all of that with Crimson Skies and you’ve got a pretty good idea for what is on offer in The Falconeer. It is hard to describe simply because it is so unlike any other one thing. Even as someone who plays a lot of games that are theoretically in the same genre as The Falconeer, I have to say that I’ve never played anything quite like it. On top of all of that the Switch version itself is among the best Switch ports we’ve ever seen. This is a rare instance of a game that feels perfect on the go but also looks great on a big screen TV. Yes, the core gameplay loop is fairly simple, but The Falconeer never really pretends to be anything other than what it is and it excels wildly at it. If you’re a fan of aerial combat games and want to try something outside the usual realm of fighter jets and spaceships, I can strongly recommend trying out The Falconeer. While it may get repetitive for some, the core combat loop and lore filled world drew me in and I’ll likely be returning for more very soon.

TalkBack / The Long Gate (Switch) Review
« on: July 30, 2021, 08:58:02 AM »

An unforgiving port in more ways than one.

I tend to like first-person puzzle and adventure games. In general, I like to think I’m fairly good at them. The Long Gate may be the first time I’ve picked up one of these games and quickly thought to myself, I may not be smart enough for this. While now and then difficulty arose simply due to the Switch port itself, the vast majority of The Long Gate is just a very challenging, complex puzzle. That being said, it was always one I felt oddly compelled to solve.

At first glance, one might compare The Long Gate to something like Myst. But where Myst’s abstract world demands creative thinking, The Long Gate demands logic, mathematics, and a touch of basic engineering. It also operates on an assumption that you have a pretty darn good understanding of binary, to the point that I was very grateful I grew up with a computer programmer for a dad.

The Long Gate presents the player with an ever-evolving series of circuit board-like puzzles. One puzzle in an area almost never exists in isolation and ultimately feeds into the entire array. The general goal is usually to get power from one point to another. This is illustrated by a lit or unlit path on the ground. Along this path are small areas where you can rearrange components or manipulate devices in some way. Early on, many of these components will act as simple binary statements. For example feeding an unlit line into a “not” statement will cause it to light up. “And” and “or” statements allow you to combine multiple lines and the resulting output line will depend on the value of the input line. Later, you’ll mix and match eight digit binary sequences rather than simple on or off signals. Not only will you need to figure out exactly what sequences to combine to get the desired output, but simply creating those sequences requires the use of a large array that is a bit of a puzzle in and of itself. Do you know how to represent 55 in binary? You better figure it out! All of the things I just described occur within the first four puzzles.

The Long Gate’s greatest strength and weakness is that it trusts completely in the player already understanding the concepts needed to play. This goes beyond not tutorializing, The Long Gate just actively avoids being remotely inclusive. That being said, it is also the kind of game where you can look up elements of a puzzle without having any effect on your ability to solve it. There was definitely a time in my life when I knew how to convert base 10 numbers into binary but that time is well over a decade in the rearview mirror at this point. But me using the internet to convert between base 10 and binary never actually yielded a solution to a puzzle; it merely allowed me to know what pieces I would need before I could figure that out.

The Long Gate does include three difficulty modes: Engineer, Normal, and Extra Nudge. Engineer is the hardest and removes certain elements of the UI making components a bit more difficult to identify. Extra Nudge adds hints in various spots across each puzzle, but these hints by no means spell things out. Instead, they simply tell you what a given system is capable of doing. It's not that Engineer treats you as an engineer and Extra Nudge as someone who isn’t an engineer, but rather as the newest engineer on the team. Even with all that in mind, I still found myself pushing through one more puzzle. There is something to be said for a game that doesn’t treat you like an idiot (even if it should). The feeling that I should be able to solve this made me want to solve it more. It likely won’t work that way for everyone, but for a certain personality type, The Long Gate can be highly addictive.

While the difficulty is largely a matter of preference, the performance of the Switch port is a bit more objectively an issue. Both on the TV and in handheld, the Switch version is extremely blurry. This is disappointing as there isn’t anything particularly ambitious happening on screen. You’re generally in a small, dark room. The environment is simple and doesn’t feature any particularly complex lighting or simulations. What exactly is causing The Long Gate to run so poorly is a mystery. What's worse is it has a major effect on playability. You’re constantly reading small readouts of numbers, looking out across complex networks of components, and if playing on the easier mode, reading text on the ground. The already confusing puzzles become much more confusing when they’re hard to see. I regularly encountered instances of having to walk across the room to look at something even though I should have been able to see it just fine from where I was standing.

This is an engaging puzzle adventure game whilst also being one of the most daunting I’ve ever played. Would I champion a little bit more accessibility? Absolutely, as I feel there is the potential here for not only a great puzzle game but a real learning experience. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore that the Switch version itself is highly let down by this particular port. While I firmly believe that there is value in The Long Gate, it is hard to recommend the Switch be the place you play it. It's unfortunate as there doesn’t appear to be any reason the Switch version should run this badly. The Switch is an excellent platform for this type of game; unfortunately, the same engineering effort that went into the puzzle design doesn’t appear to have made it to the port itself.

TalkBack / Samurai Warriors 5 Graphics and Performance Test
« on: July 27, 2021, 07:12:58 AM »

Switch VS Xbox Series X

How does Samurai Warriors 5 hold up on Switch and can it improve on the lackluster technical performance of Age of Calamity?

TalkBack / A Defense of the Imprisoned Boss Fights in Skyward Sword
« on: July 16, 2021, 08:05:14 AM »

John digs into one of the most debated parts of The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword that isn't the controls.

While we can debate the effectiveness of the Imprisoned boss fights in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I think there is an argument to be made for them as an interesting storytelling tool.

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